Two GOP moves would hinder McCain run

Republicans in states that gave Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) victories or near victories in the 2000 GOP presidential primaries are looking to bar non-Republicans from voting in their primaries in 2008, which would make it even more difficult for the Arizonan to win the nomination should he run in two years.

Michigan’s Republican Party Central Committee more than a week age approved a plan that calls for holding the Republican and Democratic primaries on the same day, forcing voters to cast ballots in either a Republican or Democratic primary but not both, GOP executive director Saul Anuzis said in an interview.

The expectation is that there will be fewer so-called crossover ballots if voters can only participate in one primary, Anuzis added.

The GOP head must now confer with his Democratic counterpart, Mark Brewer. Democrats are thought to support the change.  

In Washington state, where Republicans chose the presidential nominee in 2000 through a combination of local caucuses and a statewide primary, the party is looking to shift more power to the caucuses.

Traditionally, conservative activists, from abortion opponents to gun-rights proponents, have dominated caucuses, in Washington and elsewhere.

“Pat Robertson won every caucus state in 1988 except Iowa,” said Chris Vance, who recently stepped down as Washington state’s GOP chairman and managed Sen. Bob Dole’s 1988 presidential campaign.

In both Michigan and Washington, the people deciding who should be the next president of the United States are almost certain to be, as a whole, more conservative than the people who did so in 2000.

Vance stressed that Washington Republicans won’t take any concrete steps until 2007 but added that a shift toward a more caucus-based selection process is likely.

Michigan and Washington also are looking to push up the dates of their primaries, with Michigan angling for the same day as South Carolina and Washington looking to vote immediately after New Hampshire, home of the first primary in the nation.

Anuzis said many in his state feel Michigan is more “representative of America,” meaning more racially and ethnically diverse than either Iowa or New Hampshire. Vance argued that Westerners feel cut out of the presidential process.

In 2000, with hundreds of thousands of independents and Democrats voting in the Republican primary, Michigan backed McCain. Washington came close to supporting McCain; the senator lost by fewer than 3,000 votes out of more than 800,000 cast.

Efforts to tighten the GOP presidential selection process in Michigan and Washington may compromise the “Northern and Western tier” strategy outlined by former McCain campaign aide Marshall Whittmann.

According to this strategy, McCain, widely perceived by Republicans as a centrist, =could skirt more conservative states in the South and win his party’s nomination by appealing to a coalition of middle-of-the-road Republicans, independents and crossover Democrats.

John Weaver, McCain’s chief political adviser, dismissed that logic. “Marshall’s a wonderful person, but he no longer works for the senator. I’m sure that’s conjecture on his part.”

Weaver added that any talk of a campaign strategy is pointless, given that the senator currently is not running a campaign.

“Even a discussion this early is preposterous,” he said. “The senator hasn’t made a decision whether he’s going to run for president.”

But Republicans in Washington believe McCain will run.

Vance said that even though a possible change to his state’s presidential selection process appears to work against McCain, the senator has been aggressively building a network of supporters across the state.

Winning in Washington, Vance continued, means starting at the precinct level. There are 6,000 precincts in the state.

McCain has been busily cobbling together a web of candidates to be precinct committee officers, from Seattle to the eastern fringes of the state.

Those candidates will run in thousands of little-known precinct races across the state in November.

Being the only Republican presidential hopeful who has organized precinct candidates, Vance added, McCain is likely to have far more allies serving as precinct officers. The officers ultimately will play a critical role at the state convention — and decide who wins the state’s presidential primary.

“This is how Reagan did it,” Vance said.

Weaver said he does not consider moves to change the primaries in Michigan or elsewhere indicative of a larger anti-McCain drive. Still, at least some anti-McCain sentiment was behind Republicans’ effort to change the primary in Michigan, said Anuzis, the state GOP’s executive director. But most of all, he said, party officials wanted to make sure Democrats did not interfere with the GOP’s selection process.

Katon Dawson, South Carolina’s GOP chairman, said his state, site of the Bush-McCain showdown that many Republicans said spelled the end of the McCain candidacy, welcomes all Republicans, including McCain, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, among others.